Forum focuses on youth player safety

The Steelers and USA Football teamed up on Saturday to host the 2013 Western Pennsylvania Leadership Forum at North Hills Junior High School.

The forum, attended by youth football league commissioners and presidents, provides the opportunity to network and share ideas with other leagues in Western Pennsylvania, as well as learn of new programs and opportunities that are available.

One of the keys to this year's forum was the introduction of USA Football's Heads Up Football program, a new approach to player safety they have implemented with the NFL to change the culture of the game. The program focuses on player safety and heads up tackling, concussion awareness and management, proper equipment fitting and coaching education.

"Player safety has been the number one topic of discussion at these forums," said Ed Passino, regional manager for USA Football. "We want to let the youth football leagues know there is a program out there that the Steelers, NFL and USA Football are all behind. We want to change the culture surrounding player safety in youth football. A lot of that is educating coaches on what proper form tackling looks like, it's with the head up. A lot of times youth coaches teach their players what they were taught, 15, 20, 30 years ago. They need to advance what they are doing. Some of the old terminology, things like bite the ball, put your head on the numbers, needs eliminated. That verbiage gives kids targets where to put their heads. The Heads Up Football initiative wants to eliminate that process, remove it from 'coach speak' when they are out there talking to their kids and teaching them how to tackle."

Passino stressed that organizations have to be willing to accept change in the way they have approached the game in the past for the safety of kids.

"Just like with anything you have people that are proactive and people who only change when they have to," said Passino. "You need to get on board with this so we can help all of our young players. I get a lot of coaches asking how to get their league involved, but some are hesitant because it's new and a different concept and with anything people are slow to change.

"Together all of us can change the focus of youth football and change it so player safety is the No. 1 priority."

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